McDonald's is under fire -- again.
More than 1,000 organized protesters stormed the fast-food giant's annual headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill., on Thursday demanding the near doubling of pay for minimum wage employees, from $7.75 to $15 per hour.
The typical rent-a-crowd was there: The SEIU and other self-interested unions; the NAACP; left-wing clergy members; professional "community activists" and a few hundred McDonald's employees who were persuaded to take the day off to bite the hand that feeds them. Labor leaders, licking their lips at the prospect of unionizing fast-food workers, and getting a piece of their weekly paychecks in the process, magnanimously provided bus service from area cities to get protesters on site.
I heard on the radio that McDonald's, whose restaurants are 80 percent individually owned and operated, was being yelled at for something else on Thursday. But I honestly can't remember what it was. One loses track. Because for McDonald's, the "Saturday Night Live" Roseanne Rosannadanna rule applies: "It's always something."
It's been open season on the company ever since Morgan Spurlock's 2004 "Super Size Me" documentary was released. Spurlock is a super nice and talented guy -- he's an NYU fraternity brother of mine -- but he did a real disservice to the McDonald's brand. After unwisely gorging himself on nothing but McDonald's food for a month and publicly documenting his attendant sodium and weight gain, it's become de rigueur to turn one's nose up at anything Golden Arches. Try eating nothing but lettuce for a month and see how you feel.
After Spurlock came the Happy Meal zealots, the self-appointed nutrition police who wanted to ban selective fast-food chains -- aka McDonald's and Burger King -- from including toys in children's meals unless those meals met the protesters' arbitrary dietary demands. After the grinches actually succeeded in San Francisco, McDonald's "voluntarily" began including apples in its Happy Meals, which as a parent I appreciate. But I cringe at the thought of how much of the fruit must end up in the McGarbage every year. I'm lucky if I can squeeze two apple slices into my 7-year-old.
When I think of McDonald's, I see a place very different than its critics describe. I see a place always clean, always bright where kids actually like to go -- where a night out with Mom or Dad, plus a toy! -- can be had from under $10. I see a place where kids will actually eat the food, before running off to the free jungle gym to make new friends. There's a reason kale joints don't give out Disney figurines.
But more than that, I think of the working poor when I think of McDonald's. The same working poor for which these professional demonstrators purport to advocate.
I saw something at my local McDonald's a couple of years ago that I'll never forget. It was a tiny thing, something that almost assuredly happens a million times a day in America, but it left an indelible impression on me.
As I was preparing to leave the restaurant with my daughter, a sunbaked man came in holding the hands of his two little girls. He was dirty and exhausted looking, seemingly having just come off a session of backbreaking outdoor work. He approached the counter and whispered an order in Spanish.
Two big vanilla ice cream cones appeared, one for each of his daughters. Their eyes grew wide as he handed them over. Those two cones cost him $1, and that almost made me cry. One dollar for the blessing of buying ice cream cones for your two little girls.
That's the McDonald's I know. A place that, through the miracle of streamlining and cost controls, allows millions of American families -- rich, poor and in between -- to enjoy a night out in a clean and cheery environment. In McDonald's, I see the most egalitarian institution in America. I wish the "progressives" would leave it alone.
William F. B. O'Reilly is a Republican consultant who is working on the Rob Astorino campaign for governor.